At the age of three, Erick was removed from his mother who was ‘nowhere to be seen’ and his father who was always drunk and fighting and ‘couldn’t give a shit’. Between the ages of five and 11, Erick was sexually abused in several New South Wales institutions. The abusers were older residents, a Salvation Army officer, welfare workers, a priest and a religious Brother.
Erick was five years old when he was first assaulted in 1967. ‘Midnight, I’d be taken from my bed along with approximately seven other boys. We were woken at night and we were subjected to sexual abuse. We were told to get on our knees and fondle the person in charge. We were told to suck their penis, lick their balls as well as three other older boys, and if we didn’t we were beaten with a paddle with little spikes on it.’
For six years until he was adopted, Erick moved between boys’ homes and foster care. He experienced physical and sexual abuse in all his placements. He was raped by two older boys after he’d told staff that they had been stealing other people’s clothes. In one home he was beaten by older boys with a baseball bat after which he spent three months in hospital. The boys said that he’d tripped on the stairs and Erick was called a ‘troublemaker’.
Erick told the Commissioner that he’d tried to tell workers in several homes about the abuse but no one believed him. The only time he could recall someone from outside the homes visiting were the few occasions when a person came to tell stories and read books. ‘They were the only people I could feel comfortable around’, he said.
In 1976, Erick’s mother was dying and asked to see her children. Erick was 13 and spent a few hours with his mother. He showed her his bruises and told her about the abuse but she didn’t believe him and seemed only interested in her older children. The following day she died and Erick was returned to the boys’ home.
Two brief foster placements didn’t work out, Erick said, because the people didn’t like him. He was punished for things the foster parents’ own children did wrong and at these times and others he received very little education. When at 17, he found independent accommodation in a hostel, he was helped by two women, who began to look out for him.
The women, one a nurse, the other a social worker organised for Erick to get into a TAFE course and from there he picked up a trade and worked over the next decades in mining and other industries. They also supported him in going to New South Wales Police in 2003, but his reporting of the abuse was dismissed and he ‘got the run around’ and gave up.
Erick said he’d found it difficult to make friends in life and didn’t trust people. Only when he came into contact with a group that supported people who’d been in institutional care did things start to change. He’d also met someone from a charity organisation who was helping him. ‘She meets with me once a month’, he said. ‘She said, “One thing for you to seriously try to work at is, have you really decided to know where you want to go? To move forward can you learn to forgive these people?” And I said, “I guess I could”. I don’t want to say I hate them, but I don’t like what they’ve done to me and I know they can’t hurt me now.’
Telling his general practitioner about the abuse had also been helpful, Erick said, and he’d been referred to a counsellor which had given him a lot of support. ‘It took me 33 years to find someone’, he said.
He wished there’d been someone in his early years that he could have spoken to about the abuse. ‘I tried to [tell them], but no one would listen or wanted to know what was going on with us boys. No one gave a damn or cared … If I was given the chance to speak with someone in private, the abuse that I had suffered I guess would have stopped. If I was given the chance.’
‘Over the years it has been hard for me to accept what has happened to me. I am learning to accept and move towards forgiveness. Many wrong people were permitted to work in public and private institutions looking after us kids who were stolen from our parents. My guess is that the institutions were open for people to get their fix on sexually abusing kids who could not fight back. I’m learning to try and forgive, but I will never forget.’